MINOT, N.D. — The presidential campaign season has begun in earnest, though it would be hard to blame you if you felt like that season is never really over.
Republicans have an incumbent in the White House, and the Democrats have an ant hill of candidates scrambling all over one another to draw the attention of voters.
These candidates are on the hunt to create “viral moments” for themselves, the Washington Post reported recently, be they organic or carefully choreographed by campaign consultants.
These moments would be something like a witty Twitter reply, or perhaps an exchange that can be turned into a GIF image.
Years ago I attended a conference where one of the speakers said the politicians of the future, if they want to get the attention of voters, would have to reduce their messaging down to the point where it could fit on a cat meme.
I laughed at the time.
Too cynical, I thought.
Now Sen. Elizabeth Warren is so desperate for attention she’s giving out relationship advice on Twitter.
Failed Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke live streamed a dental appointment.
I realize now it wasn’t so cynical.
Though some tried-and-true political ploys never go out of fashion. Like promising to give voters free stuff paid for by other people.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is promising to pay off everyone’s student loan debt, and also fund “free” tuition at America’s institutions of higher education, all by taxing those nogoodniks on Wall Street.
I’m sure some find the pitch compelling. Even here in tiny North Dakota citizens are carrying something like $2.4 billion in student loan debt.
The thing is, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Sanders is proposing a tax on stock market and bond transactions. Given the ubiquity of investing these days — everyone from day traders to blue collar workers with a 401k — we’d all be paying those taxes.
And for what? To throw more money at a higher education industry that is already bloated and decadent?
The inflation-adjusted cost of tuition and fees has grown at a pace eight times faster than wages.
What do you think will happen if we turn attending these universities into a taxpayer-backed entitlement?
Republican readers are nodding their heads at this, I’m sure, but GOP politicians do the same thing. They promise tax cuts — which I like, don’t get me wrong — but they have little appetite for the sort of spending reforms which will balance out the reduced revenues.
Sanders promises free tuition and student loan debt absolution paid for by other people.
Republicans offer lower taxes paid for by future generations of Americans who will shoulder the debt they create.
Who is voting for these people?
Why do politicians promise outrageous things they can’t really deliver on? Why do they carry on, ludicrously, as though getting a cavity filled is some endearing thing illustrative of the sort of leadership we need in the White House?
Because it works.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.